The handling of this week’s arrest of a hair salon owner in Dallas and a recent situation in Glen Rose in which two patrons of Goetz Physical Culture Center were issued Class C misdemeanor citations may be indicative of the all-around confusion and frustration caused by the nationwide COVID-19 restrictions.
Last Friday, two customers of Goetz Physical Culture Center received the tickets — the equivalent of a traffic violation — from Glen Rose Police Chief Buck Martin after visiting the facility with the state being under Gov. Greg Abbott’s current shutdown of what are categorized as non-essential businesses.
Mark Goetz, co-owner of the gym along with his wife, Radonna, told the Glen Rose Reporter Monday afternoon that he would have understood the reasoning if he had been given a citation himself, rather than his customers.
“There was no reason not to cite the owner,” said Mark Goetz, whose 9,000-square-foot facility is on Jefferson Avenue. “I’m not necessarily taking a stand, just objecting to the restrictions.”
Shelley Luther, the owner of the Dallas business known as Salon a la Mode, had opened up her shop a little over a week before she was ruled to be in contempt of court for defying the shutdown orders of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Luther was booked into the Dallas County Jail on Tuesday, sentenced to serve seven days behind bars and pay a $7,000 fine.
By midday Thursday, however, Luther reportedly was released from jail by order of the Texas Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made a statement about Luther, stating, “I join the Attorney General in disagreeing with the excessive action by the Dallas Judge, putting Shelley Luther in jail for seven days. As I have made clear through prior pronouncements, jailing Texans for non-compliance with executive orders should always be the last available option. Compliance with executive orders during this pandemic is important to ensure public safety; however, surely there are less restrictive means to achieving that goal than jailing a Texas mother."
Goetz indicated to the Glen Rose Reporter that he wasn’t attempting to challenge local authorities with his decision to reopen his gym on May 1, and said that previously they have had a good relationship with city officials.
“In a letter to the city, I asked them to please take action against me (and not customers). It appears that was misunderstood as a challenge — which it was not,” Goetz said. “Chief Martin said he could not charge me.”
Despite that, when asked if he would have been willing to go to jail instead of barring his customers from entering the gym, Goetz told the newspaper, “Yes, I was prepared for that option. I would have politely informed him (Chief Martin), and he would have to decide.”
Glen Rose Mayor Pam Miller posted a message online about what led to Chief Martin issuing the citations, stating in part, “In recent weeks, the owner of the gym sent letters to City Administrator (Michael) Leamons, members of the City Council, and myself, advertising his intention of defying Governor Abbott’s order by reopening for business on Friday, May 1st. He was asked not to do so, but did anyway.
“After consulting with City Attorney (Brady) Pendleton, Governor Abbott’s staff, and the Attorney General’s Office, the administration determined it was on solid ground and asked Police Chief Martin to take action. It was the opinion of City staff that to make a bold statement, the gym owner wanted to be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, arrested, and jailed for his defiance of the Governor’s orders.”
Mark Goetz pointed out a sign that he had previously posted on the front door of the gym that states: “Entering this facility is in conflict with Governor Greg Abbott’s “Executive Order GA-14,” which stipulates: “People” shall avoid gyms. Furthermore, you may be punished by a fine of $1,000, confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days, or both fine and confinement.”
They had voluntarily closed their gym previously, after Abbott’s initial executive order shutting down businesses in the effort to restrict spread of the COVID-19 virus. But their take on the restrictions changed when they learned that Gov. Abbott’s new Phase 1 allowed restaurants and some other businesses to open up again, although with restrictions, last Friday.
Mark Goetz said his primary objections were with the governor’s restrictions remaining in place for low-risk counties such as Somervell, while other businesses and activities have been opened up across the state. Goetz noted that Somervell County still has had no confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among its residents.
“That was the deal-breaker,” Goetz said of the new rules that went into place Friday. “You have the choice (to enter the gym or not). That’s your decision.”
In an email Radonna Goetz sent to the newspaper on May 5, she stated that their gym had an average occupancy of “10 people, including owners and trainers,” and that there are “sanitation wipes throughout the facility where any attendee may clean equipment before and after each use.” She added that staff members “are assigned daily cleaning duties.”
Mark Goetz had emphasized that there are still no Somervell County residents who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, and it is also not prevalent in surrounding counties.
Radonna also wrote, “On Thursday — April 30, 2020, over 100 antibody (tests were) conducted over the weekend … for residents of Somervell County and surrounding areas with no positive results (and) said persons never had COVID-19” and added, “all adjacent counties have an infection rate of 0.0004 or less.”
Radonna added, “What may be deemed appropriate preventative action and enforcement for areas such as Houston are not applicable for areas such as Sovervell County and may be considered a misuse of authority.”
Martin said that after the city received complaints about the gym being open for business, he issued the tickets and was simply doing his job.
“We’re not writing a law, we’re just trying to enforce it,” Martin told the newspaper.
Mayor Miller, in her statement posted online, stated that the city chose to take “a less dramatic approach” than to arrest the owners of the gym.
“Governor Abbott ordered the people of Texas to avoid gyms. He did not order gyms to close. On more than one occasion, by a unanimous vote, the City Council has adopted local emergency orders recognizing and affirming Governor Abbott’s orders. So, following through on those unanimous City Council votes, Police Chief Martin issued tickets to members of the public who were using the gym for violating the City’s Emergency Management Ordinance under which Governor Abbott’s orders had been adopted. Violation of that ordinance is a class C misdemeanor, which is equivalent to a traffic violation.
“We do not like having to take action against local citizens and businesses, but we all know that COVID 19 is a serious virus and can have deadly results. As Mayor, I have a responsibility to protect public health and defend the most vulnerable members of our community by enforcing the City’s Ordinances and emergency orders.”
Martin said that if he finds that other businesses such as hair salons are in violation of the executive order to stay closed until further notice, “I wouldn’t do it any differently. The executive order says ‘people shall avoid going into’ gyms.”
Martin said that anyone ticketed with a Class C misdemeanor has 10 days to contact the municipal clerk’s office at City Hall.
Gov. Abbott’s previous stay-at-home order was allowed to expire on April 30, but the current one went into effect one week ago, on May 1. The state’s online posts says that “under Section 418.173, failure to comply with any executive order issued during the COVID-19 disaster is an offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days, or both fine and confinement.”
The email from Radonna Goetz closes with the following statement: “Goetz Physical Culture Center is physically open, for all intents and purposes the gym is not operational as how many individuals will attend the facility knowing they may receive a citation having a fine of up to $1,000!”
BIG ROCKS, OTHER ISSUES
While gyms, hair salons and massage parlors and a few other businesses will be allowed to open their doors on May 18, other local businesses, such as restaurants, have been able to have customers return to their dining rooms since May 1.
One Glen Rose restaurant, The Green Pickle, has been shut down since the governor’s initial shutdown orders were issued during the second week of March. But owners Kelly and Delaine Booker have taken advantage of the situation by using the down time to remodel their restaurant.
Delaine Booker said early this week that the remodeling may be completed within a couple of weeks, but she is still hesitant to reopen. She also questioned the fact that city-owner Big Rocks Park has remained open to the public.
“It’s a scary thing for the elderly,” she said. “I think it (reopening) is too early. I mean, it’s just going to start all over. I think Glen Rose is going to get it (positive cases). I hope everything goes according to the governor’s plan. I think if that’s going to happen, they should shut Big Rocks down because those people are not abiding by the law (social distancing and wearing masks). (And) the golf course has been open the entire time. I’ve (heard) people comment on that.”
Miller’s message, which is on the city’s website, also states, “Responding to the COVID 19 crisis has been a difficult task. On one hand, some citizens have complained that the City hasn’t done enough because we haven’t closed Big Rocks Park (no orders have been issued by Governor Abbott mandating the closure of local parks). On the other hand, some complain we have done too much. We have carefully weighed the matter and have tried to balance civil liberties and public health. To achieve this balance we have looked to Dr. (Steven) Vacek, our Somervell County Health Authority for guidance. At one City Council meeting when asked about closing Big Rocks Park, he stated that at the time he did not think it was necessary. He indicated that sunlight is a great sterilizer.”